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Will Americans Turn Yellow?
by Patrick Bryson
19 January 2003 

Will Americans turn against a war in Iraq once casualties start, as they did in Vietnam?


As I hear about the U.S. build up of troops for a possible war with Iraq, I’m reminded of my grandfather.

He was a tough man, the last of the real cowboys. If he had smoked he could have been the Marlboro Man. Yet for a year or so this clean living tough guy got up ever morning, went to the outhouse in the cold and dark and threw up.
World War II was at its peak and he had three boys in combat. Every day he lived with the notion that three telegraph messages bearing the words “We regret to inform you….” could show up at his door.

My grandfather wasn’t naïve or stupid about where his sons were or what might happen. Neither are today’s Americans stupid and naïve about a prospective war with Iraq and what might happen to their sons and daughters. Yet editorial pages all over this country are of the opinion that Americans will fold up and weep for mercy if casualties come in quantities during a Middle East conflict.

The rational for expecting Americans to yellow up once casualties start is this: The United States suffered fewer than 200 deaths in Gulf War, suffered no casualties in Kosovo and only 40 or so casualties, so far, in the campaign in Afghanistan.

The last time the American public saw casualties was in Vietnam, particularly following the Tet Offensive. This country had over 53,000 dead in Vietnam and if casualties start rolling in against Iraq, the logic goes, Americans will recoil in horror.

We will question the wisdom of our Iraq policy and call for a pullout, just as it happened during Vietnam.

Americans have no staying power the logic goes.

That could happen, but only if George Bush is shortsighted as Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy and the rest of the “Best And Brightest” who ran the Vietnam fiasco.

America was involved in Vietnam for 12 years, eight years longer than our involvement in World War II. By the time the Tet Offensive came around American ground troops had been engaged for three years, with no end in sight and no reason to think that the Johnson administration had any intention of fighting to win. The reasons sighted by the Johnson administrations for being in Vietnam came in the form of mumbling about “the domino effect.”

Lyndon Johnson would have fought the war in secret if he could have gotten away with it. Karl Von Clausewitz wrote that it took three different entities to fight a successful war –the military, the government and the people.
In Vietnam the United States government was incompetent and the American people were removed the mix entirely.

The United States wasn’t moving up the Pacific toward Tokyo or charging through France toward Berlin. We were fighting what Clauswitz called a “Strategic offensive, tactical defensive war,” and we were initiating combat in Vietnam less than 30 percent of the time.

To take the Vietnam scenario and project it into a conflict with Iraq is idiocy.
People who equate the possible war against Iraq to Vietnam either don’t understand Vietnam or they misjudge the American people.
American anti-war activists are constantly telling the rest of us to drop the World War II analogies when talking about Iraq. They’re not the same, they argue.

Perhaps those lovers of the word “quagmire” should follow their own advice and drop the Vietnam analogies. They’re not the same, either.
The doomsayers also remember how quick the United States had been to jump out of Somalia after the casualties started.

This isn’t Somalia. Again, our purpose for being there was only vaguely defined. It was a mission of mercy to save those “starving black faces” as Jesse Jackson said at the time. We had no national interests involved and no logical reason for American troops to be in harm’s way. When the shooting started, the American people wanted to crush the bastards who shot down our helicopter and killed our people. The Clinton administration, however, ran for cover.

Any right thinking person will re-evaluate our war aims once casualties start. Now casualty numbers are only been speculation. Goals are often redefined when reality stares us in our faces. It’s the difference between theory and reality.

There is, however, a difference between re-evaluating and crumbling. Re-evaluating is what intelligent people do during a conflict or ongoing question. Usually intelligent people will re-evaluate but stick with conclusions they came to in gentler, more rational moment. They don’t weep and run for cover because things got nasty.

If properly intellectually armed to begin with, Americans will stay the course until it’s over.

Those liberals and hand wringers looking for twitches and moans once casualties come admit that the Bush administration is working to keep deaths down. But, they say, Bush is only trying to keep casualties at a minimum to avoid popular opinion turning against him and the conflict.

It never occurs to them that Bush might be working to keep the casualty rate down because he’s worried about the health and safety of our military people and the peace of mind of parents back home.

He doesn’t want them to rise every morning and get sick in the outhouse.

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